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The NDP should prepare to end their deal with the Liberals over the looming public service strike
If the government threatens or tries to enact back-to-work legislation, Jagmeet Singh should leave the supply and confidence agreement.
By Wednesday, more than 150,000 public servants could be on strike. In a piece for Jacobin, I talked about what these folks want and why we ought to stand with them. In short, these workers want enough money to keep up with the cost of living and we should support them because every worker deserves at least that. And while it’s these workers today today, it could be you tomorrow. Moreover, when all workers stand together, all workers benefit. The federal New Democratic Party ought to take this point to heart and prepare to end their supply and confidence agreement with the Liberals over this labour dispute, should it escalate.
So far, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has said he supports public service workers “100 percent.” Good for him. He’s also said he’s opposed to back to work legislation. Good fir him again! He said that the government can avoid having to use such legislation by negotiating “a fair contract with these workers.” Okay, so far, so good.
But what if they don’t? And what if they rely on the back-to-work legislation Singh says he opposes? If it comes to that, the NDP should put the Liberals on notice that they intend to end their bargain, which is meant to keep the minority government standing until the 2025, and let the chips fall where they may.
As of Monday afternoon, Justice Minister David Lametti refused to say if the government was preparing or had prepared back-to-work legislation. They’ve done it before. They did it to postal workers in 2018 and port workers in 2021. They’d do it again. And they wouldn’t need the NDP to pass such legislation. No doubt, the Conservatives in the House of Commons would back the Liberals to force workers back to work. If this comes to pass, the government should pay a heavy price for it.
Federal public service workers deserve fair pay, especially since they make the state work and the state is critical to our lives. The government’s offer isn’t fair, asking workers making between $40,000 and $65,000 to let inflation eat away at their take-home pay. A pay cut.
The NDP ought to always be prepared to stand up for labour and do whatever it can to advance the rights and well-being of workers throughout the country. They ought to put their guts and asses on the line to do it, too. That requires bold action that puts sufficient pressure on the government to do the right thing.
Threatening to end their supply and confidence agreement would do it.
There’s nothing in the deal about back-to-work legislation (though there is a section on “A better deal for workers”). In their release about the arrangement, the NDP was clear to point out “The parties will not always agree. The government will pursue elements of its agenda that the NDP may oppose and nothing in this agreement prevents either party from doing that.” Disagreement is to be expected and is perfectly consistent with the deal. But back-to-work legislation is so awful, heavy-handed, and deleterious to labour rights across the country that the NDP should consider it a bridge too far — something well beyond day-to-day disagreement. (They can also look to the Mulroney government and the 1990s for just how bad it can get.)
The Liberals need to know that back-to-work legislation has a cost. And the left needs to know the NDP is prepared to go to the wall for workers. The benefit of threatening to end the deal is that it might prevent such a wretched tool from being used and could, indeed, help bring about agreement between the government and its workers. The risk, of course, is that the Liberals proceed with back-to-work bullying anyway, and the risk of the government falling rises — which is to say the risk of an election, which no one wants right now, goes up. So do the chances of a Conservative government coming to power. That could perhaps affect flawed but better-than-the-status-quo efforts, such as the new dental care program. If the Liberals wish to avoid this, and presumably they do, they can give workers what they want and deserve.
If Jagmeet Singh and the NDP aren’t prepared to fight for workers today, and to put something real on the line to do it, then they’ll own a piece of any worker-bashing, anti-labour outcomes that emerge from the government’s actions. And if that is Canada’s labour party, well, then there are bigger questions to ask.